The MSU women’s basketball team hopes to welcome back redshirt freshman forward Akyah Taylor to the rotation for tonight’s home game against Iowa at 6 p.m.
Normally, the Spartans (14-2 overall, 2-1 Big Ten ) would not make a big deal out of the return of a player who has averaged 9.3 minutes of play in four game appearances. But considering MSU has been short-handed and forced to play with a seven-man rotation the last two games, an extra body could be invaluable.
“She’s going to play allegedly, at this point, unless something tragic happens between now and shoot around at 1 o’clock — which could happen with that kid,” head coach Suzy Merchant joked.
Taylor hasn’t played since the Jan. 3 conference-opening win over Minnesota because of a non-contagious strain of MRSA, Merchant said. She previously missed the first nine games of the season because of a suspension.
“Akyah does do one thing, and that’s bring a lot of energy to the team,” Merchant said. “She plays really hard, she’ll take charges, she’ll get to the foul line, she’ll do some good things for us, so we could use her. (Iowa plays) an outside-in game, so I think she’d be a nice addition to our defensive side of the ball.”
That Hawykeyes’ outside-in game is driven by a pair of seniors that Merchant said have proven themselves throughout their careers at Iowa (13-4, 2-1) — guard Jaime Printy and 6-foot-5 center Morgan Johnson. The latter averages 17.7 points and 7.5 rebounds per contest, both of which land her in the top-10 in the conference.
Junior guard Klarissa Bell said Iowa likely will try to slow the game down with some zone defense while applying similar pressure on ball-handlers to what the Spartans saw in a road win against Illinois on Sunday.
Nobody is more excited about the return of Taylor than center Jasmine Hines and guard Kiana Johnson, each of whom have been forced into bigger roles and more minutes off the bench, including 32 for Johnson at Illinois.
Bell, who likened Taylor to the Energizer bunny, said Taylor’s presence in the lineup eventually trickles down and gives all players a few more breathers.
“That definitely helps just because only having seven people can kind of wear you out a little bit,” Hines said of Taylor. “Having her back will be really nice, I think she brings a lot to the game.”
The Spartans’ hallmark all season has been their defense, which ranks fourth in the nation in points allowed.
“We just really all have that attitude that we don’t want to lose, and so we’re just all going to do the little things,” Bell said.
“… I think the one thing that really helps us is our focus on the defensive end. I think that that’s what’s helping us a lot right now. Even if our offense isn’t really flowing for us, we still have our defense to rely on, so I think that that’s a good thing. We just feed off one another.”